View Full Version : CNC Shaper?

09-29-2001, 08:16 PM
I just got a good look at a 24" shaper. I have seen CNC lathes and mills, does anyone make a cnc shaper?

I am new to metalworking and I am trying to learn everything I can. I see how shapers were used alot in the past but the machine shop I have friends at doesnt seem to use them.

Dont bomb for the question, it just seems to fill a gap I see in machine technology. Mills and lathes have limits.

By the way just bought a SouthBend 9" model "c". I pick it up monday. This is going to be a long weekend!


old sass
09-29-2001, 08:26 PM
Welcome to the world of hobbist machining! I am new to metalworking also, just finished redoing a South Bend 8" lathe. It is a honey! Congrats on buying a great little lathe. A CNC shaper sounds neat, too bad the use of the shaper is all but dead in commercial shops.

C. Tate
09-30-2001, 09:19 AM
I think the main reason the shaper has disappeared from the machine tool builders catalogs is due to the proliferation of other types of equipment and the relative cost of these machines. Think about making a woodruff keyway in a shaft. How many ways can can you do this? Knee mill, horizontal mill, lathe with milling attachment, not on the shaper. The knee mill will probably be the first choice for most people if it is available to them. How many different things can you do with the mill that you cannot do with shaper? Any thing that requires that you have a rotating tool. When compairing the size of the machines a knee mill will require much less space in the shop than a shaper that has similar capacity. A Bridgeport mill with a 9x42 table travels somewhere around 36" one way and 10" the other. A shaper capable of the same travels is monsterous in size. The mill requires no hydraulics or complicated cam systems and can be manufactured for less and in turn sold for less. You must also consider ease of set up. The shaper requires that you grind complex tools for many jobs that can be purchased of the shelf for a knee mill.

I don't think the knee mill is the only thing to cause a decline in demand for shapers it seemed like a good example to illustrate what I was thinking.

If you get the opportunity to purchase one I would reccomend the purchase. A shaper is fantastic to have and will be just the thing to have in many situations.

You could add CNC controls to all of the axis of movement that use lead screws. I would think that trying to add CNC control to the sliding head would approach impossible.

Good Luck

09-30-2001, 12:26 PM
The shaper was made redundant by vertical and horizontal mills. A Bridgeport with a slotting head can do anything a shaper can - faster. There are many times I have drooled at the thought of an old hand powered shaper converted to hydraulics (sorta CNC!).

Most of them were built like tanks and still perform very well - they have just fallen out of favour because they were too slow. Time is money in a machine shop.

Reading as much as you can will assist you in this never ending learning experience - and it is fun too! Make sure you follow safety procedures in your shop and always pay attention - have fun!

Dave Smith

[This message has been edited by Thrud (edited 09-30-2001).]

10-31-2001, 11:17 AM
Mill tooling was very expensive and had limited availability for many years. Today you can get end mills for pennies, and the supply is huge. Back then mill tooling was very expensive, expensive to maintain, and took a long time to make which limited availability. We see the shaper starting to disappear from production around the 50's. This is when modern development of mill tools made them very affordable to industry. When the tools for the mill became less expensive and more durable, the mill tooling then became a more versatile, widely available, and economical solution for shaping operations. Shapers have stayed around for so long, because of there low cost of operation.

10-31-2001, 04:33 PM
I know a shaper can be used fo cutting keyways in a wheel. How do you do it with a mill? (;{)}}

grace & peace

10-31-2001, 10:17 PM

You get a slotting head for your knee mill. It is also possible to do keyways in the lathe - HSM has had a few articles in the past on that.


11-01-2001, 12:33 PM
As I remember a lathe method that involved using the carriage movement to do a shaper-like function.

I have no idea what a slotting head looks like for a mill.

grace & peace

11-01-2001, 11:03 PM
a slotter is a vertical shaper.....for keyways & w/ table tilted for old tymey die work .....keyways quickly done w/ broach & press(vise ) & yes ,forgive me father , lead hammer!......also beleive it or not they still make a vert. mill tool for keyways( bevel gears rotating a cutter in tube inserted IN the bore of gear, pulley ,etc.
best wishes

11-02-2001, 12:28 AM

I think KBC still sells a slotting head in their catalog. Yes, the carriage mounted cutter was the lathe method I mentioned.


Never heard of the tube/bevel drive slotting tool - sounds as expensive as a slotting head. It sure is interesting the solutions people come up with for the same problem, is it not?


Ben Shank
11-10-2001, 10:16 AM
Shapers are still a useful machine in small shop where production is not important, such as one-offs. The shaper with a single point tool can do many jobs as well as other machines without expensive tooling. They are a fun machine to use, and considering all but the bench models are dirt cheap (usually about hat they weigh), can be a nice addition to a home shop.
Shapers don't really lend themselves to being CNC, but I guess there is someone who will try.
I have a big shaper and I wouldn't trade it.

11-11-2001, 10:19 AM
I agree with everyone in this post, however
They are valuable tools, and will work for cheap, and have a very valuable place in history as well in the home shop.
I have seen them used as a shaper, basically
with H.S. cutters, keyways, splines, planing,and cutting gears, but in industry I have seen them used to cut bar stock, with a little shear attachment, I have seen them used to stamp products with the company name etc.
To do it they had a curved stamp that rocked
over the plate to be stamped. I imagine with
the right attachments they could even be used to cut the winters firewood, I've seen a lathe do it why not a shaper?
Shapers are still produced and used in China
but so are steam locomotives.
They are very useful, and I have heard a lot
of commercial machinists say I wish I had a shaper.


[This message has been edited by gizmoid_52 (edited 11-11-2001).]

11-11-2001, 05:08 PM
CNC shaper? Maybe one with a auto return to take repetitive passes and advance the tool befor each. Think of an electric typewriter and hit return.

kap pullen
11-28-2001, 08:54 AM
Shapers are great. I have a G & E 16 " toolroom model.

I use it to rough out hard steel blocks.
I'll set a cut and go do something else. All you need are some old hss lathe tool bits from the flea market, no inserts or end mills required.

Also cut internal keyways in hubs pulleys etc. I've cut a 1" wide keyways 6" long in a 6" bore.

Dovetails, T Slots, Angles, Radiuses

I also use it to cut miniature diamond plate for locomotive runnung boards.
Grind a v nose tool (120 deg angle)
Set the vise at 30 deg
set at .05/stroke
set depth of cut (couple thou)
let her run
reset at 30 deg the other way
and repeat the process.
Wire brush the finished product and trim to size

You can with practice lay out and cut many profiles by manipulating the feed dials.
I saw a shaper with a tracer attachment in the book Machining Fundamentals by John Walker (my high school shop teacher) many years ago.
You could rig a template holder under the table....and a cam follower...hmmm

Thats another project, for another day.
Happy machining
kap pullen

[This message has been edited by kap pullen (edited 12-28-2004).]

12-06-2001, 01:34 PM
Shapers are very versatile tools. I saw a shaper that was being used to engrave the marks on slide rule's in a mfg plant once. It was pretty neat, they had a mechanism to make every 5th mark twice as long as the regular marks.

12-06-2001, 10:10 PM
Shapers, slide rules, both had a great place, now replaced with different technologies. I imagine there is still a place for shapers in the industrial world. Just thought of one where a shaper may still be used.

Watched a steel mill make railroad tracks, they used a shaper. Probably more economical than other methods.

12-30-2005, 04:44 PM
Lets see now... I needed to cut a 5-1/2 inch long 60º dovetail on my 7-1/2" stroke South Bend shaper. Each 3/8" bit (one left-hand, one right-hand) cost me $0.78.

What does a 60º milling cutter cost these days?

Mark Hockett
12-30-2005, 05:15 PM
I use my 16" shaper for the same operations that Kap does, roughing out stock. I get large Stainless steel blocks from a supplier and they are cut very uneven. I can square them up in the shaper much faster than the vert mill and with much less tooling cost. Plus I can do something else while they are cutting.

I have taken over .375" deep cuts in mild steel many times and the previous owner said he made .5" deep cuts in mild steel. There is no way my vert mill will cut .5" deep on steel with a face mill.

It is also my favorite tool in the shop to run. When the cutter is right and the speeds and feeds are right it is music.

There is a guy on the Yahoo shaper newsgroup that is building a CNC shaper.
I see no reason why a shaper wouldn't benefit from CNC especially for contouring or patterns.

12-30-2005, 09:22 PM
At pulp and paper mills, as well as mines and ocean going vessels, they require larger keyways, like "1-1/2" to 3"" wide. At our pulp mill the largest was a 2" wide keyway, I cut them on a shaper. Our shapers were 24" and 32" models, at home in my shop I still cut the big and smaller keyways with my 14S Elliott, or my 18" Elliot Major. Oh yes around 15 years ago the paper mill bought a dedicated keyseater a Mitts&Merrel,with tooling $40,000.00 , a 2" keyway cutter was $1200.00 ea.

I told them not to get rid of our old shapers, as most of our machinest had old fashioned shaper cutters made from used up brazed carbide shanks, and short pieces of parting blades. Yep, we is modern now, it's just our purchasing dept winces when we need new keyway cutters.!!

I have yet to see a mill, vertical or horizontal with an attachment that could compete with a shaper cutting the big keyways!!, or long ones as in double suction pump impellers 12" long bores.

Oh if I had to cut a woodruff keyway on a shaper I could mount my VersaMil on the ram to do the job. I have also used a shaper with a Dumore grinder mounted to a shaper ram to grind cut a keyway in a moyno pump rotor, hardness= 65Rockwell.

Oh, Thurd, Doc is correct, the company that makes those millers has been in business for 102 years!! Their millers can be driven from a drill press, CNC machining centre, lathe, I've even driven them with my VersaMil. They were originally made to cut keyways in blind holes, later they were modified for splines and oil grooves, check out their web site!

PS; The reason Doc knows about these millers, is I brought one down to him and used it in his drill press to cut a keyway in a gear for his lathe. With the other gear blank, I showed him how to cut a keyway using his little 7" shaper.


12-30-2005, 09:41 PM
I've seen a hydraulic tracer shaper.

Never seen a CNC shaper though.

Al Messer
12-30-2005, 10:32 PM
There's just something almost hypnotic about watching one do its thing.

Herm Williams
12-30-2005, 10:36 PM
I have a neighbor that recently purchased a 16 foot rockwell planer. About thirty tons. Anyway his idea is that the planer is the only way to make 16 foot pressbrake dies. Cheap accurate and simple
Groves threads and gear teeth can be cut on the lathe using a versa mil. The limit is lenth of lathe bed.

m squared
12-30-2005, 10:59 PM
I have a copy of "Making the Small Shop Profitable" (1918), now in reprint by Lindsay publications, the demonstrates among other things a method of cutting spiral groves in round stock on a shaper, WITHOUT C
NC. The setup uses a rack and pinion driving a set of bevel gears attached to a driving head with a dog on the workpiece.

If you have any interest in how they did it back then I highly recomend this book.

"I'm not dead ...I feel happy, I feel happy! (thunk)"


12-31-2005, 06:50 AM
The first machine to be put in my shop when I moved here was a 12" Anderle Steyr copy shaper. The company I worked for at the time had bought it new in 1959 to make edm electrodes. It got less than 1 year of use and was moved to a storage shed to make room for other equipment. I bought it in 1992 for the outrageous price of $45.00. I don't use it a great deal right now; but for some jobs, I wouldn't use anything else.